Redbrick Meets: Super Furry Animals | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Redbrick Meets: Super Furry Animals

Conrad Duncan chats to 90s rockers Super Furry Animals before seeing their show

‘Dad rock’ is a pejorative term, calling forth visions of balding four-pieces chugging their way through an insipid brand of risk-averse rock music, but there’s an unavoidable feeling of a dad’s outing to Super Furry Animals in 2016. That feeling is only intensified by the two men standing in front of me who observe that it’s so much nicer to see an older crowd, knowing that things won’t get ‘too rowdy’. With band members now well into their 40s and no significant new material in 7 years, the more cynical critic would have good reason to wonder what the whole point of the show we’re seeing tonight is. The band returned to live music only last year, for the 15th anniversary of Mwng, and tonight are playing their first two records, Fuzzy Logic and Radiator, in full to celebrate the former’s 20th anniversary. However, the possible monotony of this process has not escaped them. When I ask whether there are more anniversary plans in the work, Guto Pryce from the band is unconvinced – ‘it’s important for us not to get bored, we’ve got anniversaries coming up almost every year for the next few’. Running through Super Furry Animals’ catalogue for the next 10 years would be a lucrative decision but it would leave a poor legacy for one of the UK’s most forward thinking bands. Yet, while tonight is an undeniable nostalgia trip, complete with visuals inspired by the two albums, it’s not an empty experience. Super Furry Animals haven’t sounded like Fuzzy Logic for over a decade and a return to simpler times is a welcome change of pace for them.

'Fuzzy Logic is actually my least favourite I think but that’s not a good thing to say to promote the tour'

As an example of SFA’s free-wheeling creativity, the band’s debut is possibly the weakest in their catalogue; Guto even notes that ‘Fuzzy Logic is actually my least favourite I think but that’s not a good thing to say to promote the tour’. From inside the band, it’s understandable to look at the process as a missed opportunity. Recording in a lavish 70s studio on a strict budget meant there was little time to experiment with new ideas and the band largely spent their time ‘loitering a lot – there was loads of cake and food so we were digesting food most of the time, which maybe is what big bands actually do’. But returning to Fuzzy Logic shows that the album has aged much better than many of its contemporaries as a loving pastiche of 70s rock. ‘Something 4 the Weekend’ and ‘Hometown Unicorn’ are still highlights in the band’s catalogue, shown by the rapturous reception they receive, and ‘Mario Man’ ranks among their finest, despite rarely being performed. Guto also ranks it as one of the highlights of the album and it’s the opportunity to give time to these deep cuts that makes the process of revisiting worthwhile. Some tracks are even receiving some of their first outings; those that the band weren’t confident they could do justice to in their early years, like the stately ‘Long Gone’. Once the final notes of ‘For Now and Ever’ have finished fading away, we are given a brief boxing-esque interlude with placards declaring the beginning of “Round 2” before the start of the next album.

It would be fair to say that Radiator was the album where they became the band as they’re known today

While Fuzzy Logic was SFA’s first album, it would be fair to say that Radiator was the album where they became the band as they’re known today. On it, the band’s experimental tendencies were allowed to roam free; a feature that is mirrored by the fuller light show of this performance, bringing in moments of strobe lighting on the album’s more electronic tracks. It wasn’t just renewed confidence that spurred the band on but also a change of setting in the recording, relocating to a smaller studio that allowed for a less time-pressured process. Many of the samplers and synths used on Radiator were present around Fuzzy Logic but never made it out of the box. However, ‘if you’ve got 3 months in North Wales with no satellite TV, you find out how to use them’. The anything-goes attitude of its conception soon became typical for the band on future albums, bringing in more influences from psychedelic rock and electronic music, and it leads to some of the standout songs tonight. As you’d expect, singles like ‘Herman Loves Pauline’ and ‘The International Language of Screaming’ get two of the biggest cheers but it’s a majestic performance of ‘Mountain People’ that ends up being the highlight of the night. Over what must be nearly 10 minutes, the band pull together a fondness for rural life and an outro that draws as much from techno as it does from rock music. It’s suitably adventurous in the way it brings together the unknown and the unexpected with the local, and in a career as varied as SFA’s, it’s the closest to a clear mission statement as anything in their discography.

The previously mild-mannered crowd revert to the raucousness of their younger selves for 5 minutes of rowdiness that would have been unimaginable at the start of the night

However, if there’s one thing you can complain about with this sort of album show, then the knowledge of all the other songs you could have had is the first that comes to mind. It’s welcome then that the band throw in ‘The Man Don’t Give a Fuck’ as a bonus song to close out the evening. Its appearance is hardly a surprise, seeing as the band close most shows with it, but the reaction it receives warrants its inclusion. The previously mild-mannered crowd revert to the raucousness of their younger selves for 5 minutes of rowdiness that would have been unimaginable at the start of the night. As the band return to the stage for one last round of the chorus, now dressed as the Furry Animals of their names, it’s easy to see what inspired them to return to live music even without any new material to play. As for the future of the band, Guto is keen to play down any expectations about a new album. ‘It’s a serious commitment making a record, much more so than getting in the van and going on tour. It takes up a big chunk of your life and it would need to be right for everybody. We’d have to feel it was the right time and we were doing it for the right reason’. Super Furry Animals are no longer the men who hung out with Howard Marks back in 1996 but it’s fun to return to that time just for a few nights. When I ask Guto if there’s any music from this year that has particularly excited him, he points me to the new A Tribe Called Quest album as ‘a welcome reminder that not every band is bland and stale’. I imagine they would be too modest to ever put themselves in the same league as Tribe but I don’t think it’s unfair to say that seeing Super Furry Animals is also one of those reminders.

(@conradduncan1)



Published

5th January 2017 at 1:07 pm



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